–Who alone is worthy?–
The morning sun came streaming in at the sliding glass doors today. It doesn’t do this too often at this time of year but we’re having a cold snap complete with frosty nights and cloudless blue daytime skies, and this brilliance of sunshine. And suddenly these windows of mine don’t seem quite so clean as I thought them. It wasn’t all that long ago that I washed them was it? Yet the evidence is irrefutable. An accumulation of dust and wind-blown dirt has collected there. They need cleaning. The morning sun has made it clear.
Funny how we can hum along just fine under cloudy skies, thinking everything is spic and span. Then the light comes streaming and we see…
I guess that’s what this blog is about, the ‘seeing’ what has been hidden from my eyes. I am so grateful for the Word of God and for the Spirit of God who continually brings truth to bear on my life in ways that arrest my attention and give me pause to think and to write.
I have been considering this whole topic of ‘nearness to God’ and the corresponding fear of God. Perhaps never in church history (I don’t know; I’ve lived only such a short bit of it!) has there been such a lot of talk about ‘intimacy with God’ and at the same time so little evidence of it.
Are we deluded that we know God better than in fact we do?
Are we living under such a pall of cloudy skies that we are not able to rightly see ourselves and our sinfulness for want of the light of God’s holiness?
I can hum along quite fine for whole stretches of time assuming ‘it’s all good’ with my soul, content with my current level of practical sanctification. In my secret heart of hearts I may even entertain moments of delusion that I am sin-free (This happens best in isolation from people who ‘push my buttons’, and when my body is free from pain or discomfort, and in moments when endorphins are running high and life’s circumstances are comfy cozy). I can live deluded and unaware of my sinfulness so long as the sun doesn’t shine brightly through my windows.
But then comes the light of the Word shining. Then comes the fellowshipping with the saints (these down-to-earth God-seekers I walk with and talk with). Then comes the whisper of the Spirit, bringing the Word to bear on my heart. He doesn’t miss a beat. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. If we walk in the light we see our sins. And confession restores fellowship and a walking in the light that keeps our windows clean.
But it all starts with a fear of God that trembles at His Word.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All those who practice it have a good understanding.” Ps.111:10
Where we lack the fear of the Lord, we will lack a right understanding of ourselves and of our God. I see this in myself. It’s evident in the flippant God-talk that abounds in our day. Seeing dimly through our dirty windows we begin to think more highly of ourselves and more lowly of God than we ought to think! Somewhere in the fog of self-flattering words, sin becomes a non-issue. Affirming our own identities, our own worthiness, becomes far more significant than extolling the worth of the One who alone is worthy to be praised. There are many voices out there, not all of them have a good understanding. Not all of them are seeing in the light of a holy fear of God.
Consider these diverse ways of seeing–
“Let no man think more highly of himself than he ought to think”–Paul (Rom.12:3)
For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord… He will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. –Paul (I Cor. 4:4-5)
“For once a person believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner,’ it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.” –Schuller
“You rock because He rocks, so get over it. You were born to carry His glory. You are His finest creation…the only creature actually made in the exact image of the Creator. You look like your Daddy!” –Vallotton
‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’ –the Pharisee (Lk.18:11)
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. –Jesus (Rev 3:17-19)
‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ –the tax collector (Lk.18:11)
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. –John (I Jn.1:8,9)
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” –Paul (I Tim 1:15; I Cor.15:9; Eph.3:8)
And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. –John (Mk. 1:7)
And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” –John (Rev 5:2-5)
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” —the four living creatures and the 24 elders (Rev. 5:9-10)
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” —myriads of angels (Rev 5:12)
I am thinking on these things this week because I don’t want to be deluded into thinking I know God rightly when in fact I am living under a delusion of knowing God just because I know His words in my head and carry them on my lips. The Bible calls this ‘lip-service’. It is worthless. God sees the heart.
“…this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” Is.29:13
What will be the evidence that we are coming to know ourselves and our God rightly? How will we view sin? How will we view each other? How will we view God?
What I’ve concluded from Scripture (so far) is that the closer we are to a true vision of who God is and who we are in comparison, the greater will be our awareness of our own unworthiness and of His SO WORTHY-ness. This will be seen in our reverential fear of this awesome and holy God who is likened to a consuming fire. But it won’t end here. Fear is the beginning of wisdom. It is the beginning of knowing God rightly.
We can’t skip this step. The Gospel is for sinners, not for those who think themselves pretty good and just in need of a life insurance plan or a quick fix from the painful symptoms of sin. Nor do we outgrow the fear of God. If we refuse to live in the fear of God we will fail to see ourselves rightly. And the deceitfulness of sin will quickly turn our hearts to grandiose thoughts of ourselves, rather than profound and humbled gratitude and worship of God who alone is worthy of praise.
We may worship Him with our lips but even our ‘worship’ will have become an opportunity to feel good about ourselves. “Worship” is often reduce in our present church culture to mean an exuberant and necessarily emotional singing of ‘worship songs’ designed to lead us into ‘worship’. The deception lies in that this state can be entered into on a purely physical and emotional level without our hearts truly worshiping God at all.
Those who worship God will worship in spirit and in truth, Jesus said.This isn’t dependent on the setting and won’t necessarily yield a physical ‘feel-good fix’. Worship isn’t about carefully orchestrated music. Being in God’s presence isn’t about feeling good. We will know we have drawn near to God when our hearts are made aware of the natural gulf between us. Consider these men’s responses when they encountered God’s holiness:
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” –Peter (Lk.5:8)
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” —Isaiah (Is.6:5)
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” —John (Rev.1:17)
It is not in the exuberant and/or reflective singing of ‘worship music’ that we reveal our knowledge of God but in the deep heart-felt wonder that though unworthy in myself to approach God, He provided the Lamb to be my substitute, to bear my sins in His own body on the Cross so that I might become the Righteousness of God in Him. Does this then make me feel good about myself? Does it not rather allow me to forget about myself in my Awe of Him who first loved me so that I might come to know Him as He is?
How well we are coming to know our God will be seen in how aware we are becoming of our own sinfulness. If we have come to know God in any measure we will have begun to see sin as He sees it, not something to be brushed off as irrelevant, or inconsequential, not something we’re ‘over’ since we’ve come to believe. We’ll see it as the rotten core of our natures.
Granted, when we come to believe in Christ’s death on the Cross on our behalf, once we’ve confessed our sins and been given a new heart with a new allegiance and a new nature, we are no longer ruled by the old ‘us’. But while we live in these bodies, it will be there vying for attention, struggling to take dominion, needing to be denied its wishes. Only to our peril do we live as though we had no such rotten core. Even the loveliest apple will not long be edible if the worm at its core goes undetected.
Who then is worthy? If we are focused anywhere but our Lord Jesus Christ, we have misunderstood the Gospel.
And that’s the other thing about sun shining in. When it hits you full in the face it is blinding. As I sit here typing the sun is glinting in through the willow branches at an angle I am unaccustomed to. As it hits me square in the eye I am blinded to all else. Its glory expels all competing images and thoughts. My fingers are silenced on the keys as I gather my thoughts. Is this not what it is to perceive the glory of God who lives in ‘unapproachable light’, whom no man can see and live? I cannot go on business- as- usual without averting my gaze and cowering so that my eyes can evade the sun’s piercing brilliance. When we are given a glimpse of the holiness of God, all other considerations will seem trifling. When we walk in the light of it there will be no exalting of ourselves or despising of others, but only awe of Him!
This is where I want my ponderings and my life to center.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1Co 1:28-31
If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
“…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (I Tim. 6:15-16)